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SF Giants non-tender Kevin Pillar, who becomes free agent

The San Francisco Giants’ leader in home runs, RBI, runs scored and stolen bases will not return to the organization next season.

Center fielder Kevin Pillar expressed a desire to remain with the Giants in 2020, but on Monday, Pillar was informed he will not have the chance to do so.

With a bold decision that is certain to frustrate and disappoint a significant percentage of Giants fans, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi elected to part ways with Pillar and non-tender the team’s 2019 Willie Mac Award winner.

Pillar, who turns 31 in January, was arbitration-eligible and likely to earn around $9-$10 million if the Giants tendered him a contract for 2020, but he’ll instead become a free agent.

“We as an organization and as a front office really appreciate his contributions,” Zaidi said. “Our 2019 season would not have been the same without him. We’re trying to build something longer-term and sustainable and he was going to be in the last year of his contract.”

Pillar became the first Giants player since Brandon Crawford in 2015 to reach the 20-home run threshold in a season, but he rarely walked and did not rank highly in many advanced statistics. Pillar’s 85 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) was the 12th-lowest mark of any qualified hitter last season while his 93 OPS+ is a reflection of his poor on-base percentage.

Pillar earned consistent praise from Giants pitchers for his aggressive defense in center field, but despite making plenty of highlight-reel catches, the veteran finished the year with -5 defensive runs saved (DRS), according to FanGraphs.

A decision to tender Pillar a contract would have given the Giants some clarity in the outfield next season, but it would not have provided them with a chance to potentially find a long-term solution at a position where the organization has historically struggled to develop talent.

It’s unclear how the Giants will divide playing time in center field next season, but it’s unlikely they’ll turn to the free agent market to find a veteran replacement. Zaidi said the Giants are determined to see how many of the younger, inexperienced outfielders on their roster handle larger roles.

“We feel like we a have an opportunity to provide some at-bats to some young guys who can be productive players and be in our uniforms for a long time,” Zaidi said. “I think fans can and should be excited about those guys.”

The Giants acquired Pillar in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays less than a week into the 2019 season. The veteran outfielder addressed the team’s need for a right-handed bat who could play center field, but the Giants initially hoped Steven Duggar would maintain control of the starting job while Pillar would spend much of his time in right field.

Poor performance and injuries forced Duggar to cede the center field job to Pillar, who appeared in 156 games for San Francisco and earned the team’s highest honor, winning the Willie Mac Award as the Giants’ most inspirational player.

After losing Will Smith (Atlanta Braves) and Stephen Vogt (Arizona Diamondbacks) in free agency, the Giants will be down three of their most-respected clubhouse presences entering next spring.

Zaidi indicated Duggar and Mike Yastrzemski will factor into the center field competition in spring training, but also expressed hope that trade deadline acquisition Jaylin Davis would continue to progress after a strong 2019 season at the Triple-A level.

“We’re excited about creating some opportunities for guys and we’re really appreciative of the season that (Pillar) had,” Zaidi said.

Outside of the internal options on the 40-man roster, the Giants are also encouraged by the development of 2017 first round draft choice Heliot Ramos who advanced to Double-A Richmond last season. Ramos is one of several promising center field prospects in the Giants’ farm system, but even though he’s expected to receive an invitation to big league camp this spring, it’s unlikely Ramos will impact the major league club until at least the second half of the 2020 season.

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